THE Senate yesterday rejected a call by Opposition Senator Wade Mark to exclude squatters from paying the property tax, in the committee stage of debate on the Property Tax (Amendment) Bill yesterday. Mark said, “We are proposing it be removed completely from the legislation.”
He asked if applying the tax to squatters would cause an illegal land-grab by fresh squatters, and said the Government had failed to signal its intent in applying the tax to squatters. Finance Minister Colm Imbert said paying tax did not entitle someone to legal ownership of a property. Mark retorted by insisting such a tax would strengthen the hand of squatters.
Imbert replied, “That’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid.” He said squatters should pay the tax, as the Government has paid for substantial infrastructure to squatting communities, many of which will ultimately get legal title and meanwhile enjoy local government services. Independent Senator Paul Richards said taxing squatters will encourage a land-grab.
“Pay your tax and maybe I can get another acre elsewhere,” Richards said. “It is way too open for all kinds of interpretation by the public.” Minister in the Ministry of Finance Allyson West replied that the State already has the power to act against squatters. Imbert added, “We don’t want to allow people to acquire rights to property just like that.”
Independent Senator Dhanayshar Mahabir suggested someone in the process of being regularised, such as by a letter of comfort, should be deemed part of the mainstream and eligible to pay the tax. He urged that squatters on private lands should be exempt, while those on public lands should pay. Imbert retorted that as an MP he can’t neglect private-land squatters, who must be supplied with services, and so implicitly should also pay the tax.
Mahabir urged the tax levied on retirees should not exceed one per cent. Imbert said a means test will be applied to elderly people seeking exemption, for which regulations will be brought to Parliament in due course. The committee voted against amendments offered by Mark and Mahabir.